A different approach to skill development

Posted by Erik Veld on Jun 27, 2017 9:00:00 AM
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The business mindset is shifting to one where expertise is never fully achieved or accomplished. It’s crucial to nurture professional development as a constant, evolving process. This new mindset means that companies must continually “refresh” and refortify their established experts and nurture the growth of new ones. Forward-thinking companies do this by committing to ongoing training programs that focus on applicable knowledge instead of textbook skills.

Status Quo of learning

The current style of selecting and learning tools has become out-of-sync with the increased pace and diversity. New technologies and their concepts are mostly acquired in three steps: Documentation crawl, training days, immerging in the community.

  1. Documentation Crawl. Documentation is a very important source of information. You start out by crawling the website, and, if you are lucky, it does not only consist of marketing information, and you get a good sense of what the tool can solve for you. But reading documentation without context or knowing what you are looking for can be very time consuming. When confronted with an undocumented feature, you might have to resort to reading the source code instead. After finishing the getting started and you have something up and running, you start to feel pretty good about yourself. But you have no idea what you just did or how it works. After some more reading you think you understand the basics.
  2. Traditional training days. To start mastering a tool you go to a few training days and workshops. Most training sessions are linear show-and-tell presentations, with a follow-by-example workshop that focuses on theory and straight-forward, getting started use-cases. At the end, you are filled with questions with respect to your actual real-world problems as time with the trainer is too short. Your question might not fit the mold of the selected problem cases in the prepared standardized global training curriculum. Often the trainer doesn’t even have real-world experience using the tool.
  3. Hear from the community and thought leaders. To learn from others and get to know some of the best practices, you go to some meetups and conferences. There you can hear how the community and thought leaders are using new tooling. Most of the time they only tell you the getting-started-manual you already read.

Not Fit for Purpose

These traditional methods are not efficient nor effective, and scale badly if we need to learn every tool this way. And you won’t know if the tool you are learning is a great fit until you have already heavily invested in it. Only hands-on experience and real-life usage will teach professionals the ins and outs of a tool or technology. This demands a better way to learn.

Continuous learning

Instead of a one-off investment in a specific training, organizations see the value of enriching their company culture through an individual employee's ongoing professional development. Adaptive learning uses technology to modify materials according to the unique needs of each learner. Ultimately, when organizations embrace and nurture a company-wide love of learning, everybody profits.

Gamifying the learning experience

The last few years, gamification has been mentioned in trend reports as an up and coming methodology by companies such as Gartner. While some sectors within IT have already adopted it heavily to improve their learning methods, it has not been applied to subjects such as infrastructure automation and DevOps. Tools are used to solve problems, and problems are effectively challenges in disguise. Humans are uniquely geared towards solving challenges and being rewarded for the effort. Gamification offers an effective yet fun way to learn.

Want to know more about gamification in learning? Check instruqt, a new, community-driven, gamified learning platform that offers hands-on challenges and worldwide peer competitions.

Guided path to learning

By breaking problems down into bite-sized challenges, and forming skill trees with ascending difficulty or complexity, gamification enables a guided path to learning. This is how practitioners learn how to solve problems, and gain applicable knowledge on how and when to use tools. By keeping track of personal results and progress, professionals gain insight into their abilities and are motivated to keep improving knowledge and experience.

Simulate real-life scenarios

Applicable training goes beyond theory and textbooks. It’s based on real world situations and everyday practice. It provides more value to organizations by giving participants practical, immediately applicable skills and tools, through great trainers with hands-on, professional experience.

By simulating real life production setups and scenarios and replay them repeatedly, you build the skills and confidence needed to solve problems in the heat of the moment. Scenarios can be tailored to your own situation, allowing you to capture and train for possible failure scenarios.

Learn from each other

Comparing results and solutions, provide a benchmark of how one measures up to the rest of the community and colleagues. Discussing solutions with peers, and deriving best practices together, are great ways to accelerate the learning process.

This article is part of the Urgent Future IT Forecast 2017.

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Topics: DevOps & Continuous Delivery, Agile Software Development, Test Automation & Quality, Cloud Infrastructures